BLOG: Learning to Hike

I like to pretend that our lives have a soundtrack playing at certain moments. Some of these moments involve great frustration, others Zen-like clarity, and others when we’d rather be no place besides the time and location in which we currently exist. Emanating from the ether, the haunting voice of Justin Vernon from the band, Bon Iver, pays me a visit when I find myself in my weakest and most vulnerable states. After a few months of the wintertime blues a specific lyric played itself on repeat in my brain; and at once I knew I was not magnificent…

Those words spin, hit a scratch in the record, the needle jumps, and they play again.

To some extent we parents are constantly faced with our limitations – at home, at work, there’s not enough time, and there’s not enough energy in our veins, and so we compromise – and we realize we are not as magnificent as we’d like to be (and isn’t that all we want to be for our children?)

And so, we push. This April has done little to hint at the notion of Spring, but nevertheless I’ve been determined to defy Mother Nature, get out of the house, reacquaint my son with the outdoors, and imagine that I’m creating experiences that will be among the first to stick in the long-term memory of my curious 2 ½ year old.

My journey so far as a parent has constantly reinforced the fact that less is more – trying to do too much, and get too much out of an experience, will result in disaster. The more organic, the better. So, Arlo and I have bundled ourselves up each weekend and set out to take advantage of the bounty of natural wonder our peninsula provides.

On the north side of Baileys Harbor one encounters Ridges Road. A right turn and a mile or two down sits the unassuming entrance to Toft Point State Natural Area. This site features over 300 acres of protected wilderness that meander along Lake Michigan and culminate in rocky outcroppings along the shore (perfect for throwing approximately 432 rocks into the water…).

Arlo_view from toft point (2)

Walking at the wandering pace of a toddler the trail that takes one through a forested and marshy landscape, past the historical site of the first white settlers of this area, and then along the rocky shore will require about 20 minutes of time. A simple hike with a few emergency snacks was all I had planned for this cool yet sunny Saturday morning, and though my anxiety bubbled with the thought that Arlo would tire and become bored, the opposite proved true.

It was as if I were the audience to my son’s nature documentary – as he verbally navigated his way down the trail. It was a wonder to witness his curiosity, and watch the lines of awe overtake his face as we viewed an eagle circling above. It was simple and beautiful, and we allowed our senses to become awash with a reconnection to nature.

A picnic of graham crackers and apples – along with the aforementioned rock throwing – provided a nice respite before we walked back to the car. Our encounter with a porcupine on the walk back provided sufficient excitement. And though it seems a little silly to recount how something as simple as sitting on a rock, along the Lake Michigan shore, and sharing an apple can be just about as good as it gets, the wonder lies in the fact that it truly is. I was no longer bothered by the notion of not being magnificent, but rather, comforted by the knowledge that I don’t have to be. I just have to be me, and let my son be a kid.

Arlo learned the word ‘hike’ that day, and for the past few weekends –at his request – we’ve packed a bag and headed for some adventure hike. Each trip brings new experiences, and less worry that he won’t be entertained. I try not to stress about parenting as much, and though I cannot claim to have fully conquered this anxiety, a new song has overtaken my background soundtrack. It features the wind and waves, and an excited young man leading me on a hike.